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Judge will hear arguments on abortion law injunction; search for toddler resumes, more state news

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MADISON -- A federal judge was to hear arguments Wednesday on his decision to temporarily block Wisconsin’s latest abortion law.

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William Conley of Madison will decide whether to keep the law on hold, until he issues a final ruling on a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood and Affiliated Medical Services. Those groups say it’s unconstitutional to require abortion clinic doctors to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of where they normally perform their procedures.

The State Justice Department says abortion doctors need to use hospital facilities when complications arise – and they’ll have several doctors testify to that fact Wednesday. The plaintiffs say the law would drastically reduce the numbers of abortions they perform.

Planned Parenthood says it would force its Appleton clinic to close. Gov. Scott Walker signed the hospital requirement into law on July 5th, and the lawsuit was filed the same day.

Judge Conley put the law on hold a few days later. The measure also requires abortion candidates to have ultrasounds before giving up their unborn babies. That part of the law is not being challenged, and it remains in place.

High Court's ruling on a lake’s water levels could affect mine lawsuits

An environmental group says a State Supreme Court ruling on a lake’s water levels could eventually hurt those filing lawsuits over Gogebic Taconite’s proposed iron ore mine.

Elizabeth Wheeler of Clean Wisconsin says “We don’t want to back-track on our strong history on our water as a public resource.”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the DNR should have taken a possible loss of tourism into account, when it refused to let a lake district raise water levels each summer on Lake Koshkonong in Rock and Jefferson counties. The agency argued that it’s most important to protect groundwater and people’s health under the state’s Public Trust Doctrine.

Scott Manley of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce hailed the ruling. He says it’s now clear that the water doctrine applies only to navigable waterways like streams.

The attorney for the lake district, William O’Connor, said the state’s doctrine was not affected all that much. He said the court ruling only affects private wetlands near the lake.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club has asked the state to reject a license application for a military-style security firm at Gogebic Taconite’s proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

Bullet-proof Securities of Arizona had camouflaged guards with assault rifles at the site for six days – but the mining company withdrew them after it was learned that the firm did not have a state license. Bullet-proof filed a license application last Friday with the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. Bullet-proof says it expects an approval any day.

The Sierra Club says “not-so-fast.” Shahla Werner of the environmental group says the security tensions could result in tourists being injured at the site, which is public recreation land.

The state licensing agency says it does not comment on pending applications.

The Sierra Club has also asked Iron County prosecutors to file charges against Bullet-proof for not getting the required license. Last week, District Attorney Marty Lipske said he would look into it – but he would take the voluntary withdrawal of the security force into account.

He agrees that a Wisconsin firm would resolve the licensing issue, but he said the aggressiveness of a recent demonstration gives quote, “some legitimacy” to the hiring of the Bullet-proof guards.

Search ongoing for 2-year-old near Balsam Lake

BALSAM LAKE -- A was to resume Wednesday morning for a two-year-old boy missing in northwest Wisconsin.

Isaiah Theis walked away from his family’s farmhouse around 6 p.m., Tuesday near Balsam Lake in Polk County.

Dozens of volunteers and rescuers searched for the youngster until around 3 a.m., Wednesday.

Isaiah’s father, Justin Thies, told WCCO Radio in Minneapolis that he hoped the child was sleeping in the nearby corn fields, and would get home soon.

Meanwhile, the body of a Minnesota man was recovered Tuesday, one day after he jumped from a cliff on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River.

Alex Vitalis, 20, of Shafer was found by a member of the Stacy Lent Dive Team. Rescuers from northwest Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the National Park Service all joined in the search for Vitalis.

He jumped into the river on Monday at Fraconia Landing, and he never resurfaced.

Gas generator blamed for Shell Lake man's death

SHELL LAKE -- Authorities in northwest Wisconsin said they found extremely high levels of carbon monoxide at a home where a man died, and three other family members became ill.

Rescuers were called early Tuesday to the Joseph Parker home at Shell Lake in Washburn County.

Parker, age 32, was taken to a hospital and later died. His wife and two daughters were hospitalized with their carbon monoxide exposure. Their conditions were not immediately disclosed.

Several first-responders were also treated at hospitals due to their exposure.

Sheriff Terry Dryden said the Parkers were using a gas generator to provide electricity, and the unit’s exhaust fumes were not vented properly. That caused carbon monoxide levels at least 800 times the acceptable amounts.

Sticky heat remains widespread until Friday

SULLIVAN -- It’s not as hot as a year ago, but it’s still plenty hot in Wisconsin.

The state headquarters of the National Weather Service in Sullivan recorded a heat index of 108 Tuesday – the stickiest in the Badger State for the second day in a row.

The misery index from the temperature and humidity reached 105 in La Crosse and Grant counties, and near Oak Creek. The state DNR did not have any air quality alerts issued for this morning. An ozone advisory expired at one a-m for Milwaukee area counties along Lake Michigan.

Milwaukee’s high Tuesday was 93 – five degrees cooler than the same day a year ago, believe it or not. Thunderstorms occasionally interrupt the seething heat, but they don’t do much to cool things down. Green Bay had 47 mile per hour winds late Tuesday afternoon. More storms are possible throughout the state Wednesday, with heat indices of up to 105 in southern and central areas.

A major cool-down is predicted for Friday in the north, and the rest of the state on Saturday – when highs might not get out of the 60’s in some places.

Budget bill provision lessens local influence on cell towers

MADISON -- Unbeknownst to many, the new state budget makes it a lot harder for communities to stop or regulate cell-phone transmitting towers.

Under the new state budget that took effect July 1st, local governments can no longer require cell companies to put their antennas on water towers or other public property. That’s a big potential revenue loss for communities like River Hills, which gets $200,000 a year in leasing fees from wireless companies.

Village officials say they’re considering a lawsuit against the state to strike down the new measure – which got zero public attention as the budget was being passed.

Also, local governments can no longer reject cell towers for aesthetic reasons – and height limits of under 200-feet are no longer allowed. The Wisconsin Wireless Association lobbied for the measure, saying it’s needed to keep up with the growth in cell service and high-speed Internet. Jim Greer of AT&T says the patchwork of local regulations is one reason that parts of Wisconsin don’t have good wireless coverage.

In Brookfield, where Verizon wants to build a 130-foot tower, neighbors say it would hurt their property values and make them more susceptible to lightning and falling chunks of ice.

They’ve filed a claim notice against the city – and it’s not certain whether the new state budget provision will help Verizon get its project approved.

Wellness Conference leaving Stevens Point

After 38 years in Stevens Point, the National Wellness Conference will move to a bigger place in 2014.

Organizers say a growing attendance and a lack of connecting flights to the Central Wisconsin Airport are why the annual convention will move to Minneapolis next year.

This year’s conference began on Monday and runs through Thursday at UW Stevens Point. It’s hosted by the National Wellness Institute, which is based in Point.

William Baun, who chairs the institute’s board, says the event needs to be more accessible. Some attendees had flights canceled, and were forced to rent cars from the Twin Cities or Chicago in order to get to central Wisconsin. One of the speakers had a flight canceled from Chicago.

Baun says the Institute hopes to return the conference to Stevens Point in 2015 – and maybe alternate locations every other year between Point and Minneapolis.

Point Mayor Andrew Halverson said it’s disappointing to lose the conference next year, since UWSP had one of the nation’s first wellness programs. Still, he agrees the move is part of our changing times – and he said the city would keep working with the Wellness Institute when- and where it can.

Three Lake Michigan shipwrecks added to the National Register

STURGEON BAY -- Three shipwrecks in Lake Michigan have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. They include the Australasia near Door County, the America near Kewaunee County, and the E-M-B-A in Milwaukee County.

The Australasia was the largest wooden vessel on the Great Lakes when it started on fire in 1896 and sank soon afterward.

Shipbuilders have examined all three wrecks to get lessons on various construction techniques.

The E-M-B-A was a self-unloading barge. Officials say it still provides lessons on how to adapt self-unloading technology to conditions on the Great Lakes.

Fort McCoy hosts large military training exercise

SPARTA -- Fort McCoy is hosting the National Guard’s annual Patriot training exercise this week.

It’s designed to show military units the strengths and weaknesses of their emergency response plans. It also evaluates the ability of Guard members to respond to various types of disasters, while working with local-and-state response teams.

Over 2,000 soldiers, airmen, and civilian first-responders from 26 states are taking part in the Patriot exercise. It began Monday at the Fort McCoy Army base between Sparta and Tomah – and it will wrap up Thursday.

The Army Reserve is involved for the first time. Wisconsin’s Regional Hazardous Materials’ Response Team is among the civilian units in the exercise, along with the state’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

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Steve Dzubay
Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer since 1995. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.
(715) 426-1054
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